Bobby is a Principal with a background in History and Social Studies. He first traveled with EF Tours in 2010 to Rome and Paris, and now leads a student tour every summer. He believes that young people should experience life outside of their communities, and that understanding other cultures is imperative to solving global challenges.
All my tour itineraries are built to be engaging, educational, and fun for students. That said, some of the most magical moments have occurred spontaneously during free time. Many first time Group Leaders are curious as to what “free time” means. Free time is built into your schedule to allow for lunch, shopping, additional site seeing, etc. However, if utilized effectively, free time can also create spontaneous and unforgettable EF tour memories.
I suggest the following four tips to help optimize your free time and create an amazing experience for you and your students.
Prior to your trip, check your itinerary and determine which cities you’ll have free time in.
While EF’s pre-tour itinerary is tentative and subject to change, it will give you a pretty good idea of when and where you’ll have free time. Do you have free time in Paris after visiting Notre Dame? Great, consider exploring the Latin Quarter – The old academic heart of Paris. If you’re on your way to Florence and stopping briefly for lunch in Siena don’t plan on having much free time. Rather, save your energy for researching the Uffizi Gallery in Florence after touring the Duomo.
Locate local neighborhoods, sites, restaurants, etc. that are close by and easily accessible.
While I was visiting Rome, I had my heart set on eating at a pizzeria that I had seen featured on a television show. When I mapped out the restaurant in Rome, it was nearly a 30 minute walk from where we were! Needless to say we decided to eat elsewhere. Your free time destinations should always be somewhere that you can walk to and back in no more than 20-30 minutes, oftentimes far less. Utilize travel apps and maps to help determine which places are feasible for you to visit and which ones are not.
Research admission fees and operating hours of the sites you are interested in visiting.
One summer while visiting London, I decided to use some free time to explore Westminster Abbey which sits just across the River Thames from our last stop. I checked my watch, approximated what time I needed to be back, and set off on the nearly one mile walk. After battling the crowd on Westminster Bridge, and stopping to buy some freshly roasted cashews from a street vendor, I crossed the street in front of Parliament and found myself face to face with Westminster Abbey… A closed Westminster Abbey.
Prior to your trip check online to ensure the restaurant you’ve been dying to eat at is open for lunch and that the museum that houses your favorite piece of art doesn’t charge an admission. Don’t risk being a locked door away from seeing something you’ve dreamed of experiencing – Plan ahead!
Did you skip steps 1-3? Don’t worry! Ask a local or your tour director for suggestions.
You’ve just left St. Peter’s Basilica and you have two hours to grab lunch before meeting back at Bernini’s fountain in the middle of St. Peter’s Square. While your Tour Director will always give you suggestions where you can eat, consider asking your Tour Director where they are going to eat. Your Tour Director travels to these cities frequently and can direct you to the best and often most inexpensive food in any given area. Feeling extra adventurous? Ask a local where the best food is located. You’ll often get a more authentic experience while immersing yourself in the local culture.
As always, exercise sound judgment during free time and always stay with your assigned groups (my students are in groups of three or more). You will quickly find that free time is your chance to explore and truly experience a new culture. Sit at a coffee shop counter in Paris and pretend you’re a local. With the right preparation free time can be a wonderful tour experience.